Posted on April 28, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli
Flames Rising Project Manager, Monica Valentinelli, was delighted when Tad Williams agreed to an interview for Flames Rising. This interview gave Monica the chance to ask Tad “the” burning questions she’s always wondered about. Monica has reviewed a few of Tad William’s books for Flames, you can read her Shadowplay review and her War of the Flowers Review.
Tad Williams opens up about his writing style, favorite villains, and his new young adult fantasy series co-authored with Deborah Beale. So sit back and read along about veteran science fiction and fantasy writer Tad Williams, in this engaging interview.
What prompted you to become a science fiction and fantasy author?
Two reasons, really. I liked the freedom of the genre — that you could do almost anything you wanted as long as you delivered a story — and it was also something I’d read a lot (although by no means exclusively) when I was younger, so I thought I could judge whether I was doing a good job, at least in the beginning.
What are some of your biggest inspirations as a writer?
I grew up on lots of great science fiction and fantasy writers — Tolkien, Bradbury, Sturgeon, Ellison, Zelazny, Moorcock, Leiber, Le Guin, Dick, just to name a very few — but I have also been very influenced by great historical writers like Barbara Tuchman and J. J. Norwich, as well as science writers like Steven Jay Gould. Also many mainstream or literary novelists like Pynchon and Updike and Thomas Berger, again to name just a few, and artistic genre writers like Ruth Rendell, have changed and charged my ambitions.
As a fantasy author, do you feel compelled to follow the tropes and stereotypes that are prevalent in traditional fantasy?
No. There are some tropes that are so old and so venerable — the mythic archetypes, if you will — that you have to at least honor them. That means you have to acknowledge them in some way. They cannot be ignored, but they do not have to be repeated mindlessly, either. If you make a point of a character being the subject of a prophecy, then SOMETHING has to happen with that prophecy. It must have significance. It doesn’t have to be true, or even crucial to the eventual ending of the story, but neither can its existence be brushed away.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced when designing the story and setting behind Shadowmarch as opposed to your previous work, like the Dragonbone Chair?
SHADOWMARCH began originally as a dramatic setting — a film or television idea, which was meant to be grounded in one place. After it had gone through its other iterations, including an online serial, and was then being finished in the form of a three-book series, I turned it inside out and made the rest of the world more of a character than it would have been in the castle-centric version. Also, it was from the first meant to be more explicitly about family, about the persistence of family ideas and family identity, for good and bad, and so that’s a big part of how it was planned.
What are your thoughts on the difference between “fantasy” as a genre and calling a work, like Shadowplay, “dark fantasy”?
I think it’s largely a merchandising issue. Maybe “fantasy” these days sounds too mainstream, and so the more “serious” parts of the genre, whatever that means, are getting designated “dark”. An attempt to assure the older readers that this isn’t the lowest-common-denominator RPG stuff, maybe? I’m not really sure. I didn’t set out to write a “dark fantasy”, particularly. (Or an UNdark fantasy, for that matter.)
Is Shadowrise the last book you have planned for the Shadowmarch series? Can you share any hints about what readers can expect?
Yes, it’s the final book. I mentioned the opening-out process earlier, and that’s what the readers will get: the mythology and folklore of the first few volumes, which has appeared largely as background material, moves right into the foreground. This is not a battle of men versus men, or even men versus fairies, it’s going to be a battle of mortals versus gods.
As someone who’s been around the science fiction and fantasy publishing industry a long time, how do you think the industry has changed? Where do you think it is headed?
I think that ideas will rule, as always, but distribution will change. I think more storytelling will take place in what seem like separate genres at the moment, like gaming. I think that people may start crafting ongoing stories that people pick up in small installments like television episodes, reading on their phones or electronic book delivery devices of some other kind.
Of all the of villains you’ve created, from Ineluki the Storm king to more recently, the Autarch and the Qar, which one is your favorite and why?
Well, from the standpoint of pure evil, I think Johnny Dread is pretty far up there, because he’s an understandable evil — he’s not a king, not an undead monster, not a wizard. People like him really exist. But I’m also really enjoying the two baddest bad guys in the Shadowmarch books, the Autarch and his minion, Daikonas Vo, and the last volume will have a lot of exploration of both of them. Not psychoanalysis, but a chance to look into the abyss at first hand. Fun for the whole family!
Recently, you announced the upcoming publication of a young adult series, co-authored with Deborah Beale, entitled the Dragons of Ordinary Farm. Can you tell us a little bit about what the series entails?
The first book (titled as you mentioned) is pretty much finished, and will be published by Brenda Bowen Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, in early 2009. The beginning of the story is that two children are sent off to spend what they think will be a horrible, boring summer on their great-uncle’s farm, only to discover that the animals he’s raising are all mythical — dragons, unicorns, griffins, sea-serpents. But that’s only the beginning, because what’s going on at Ordinary Farm is deeply, deeply weird and complicated and dangerous.
What are some of the differences between writing for young adults versus “mature” audiences?
Well, I have not written any sex scenes into my young adult series (not there are all that many in my other work). Other than that, we’re trying to write short and to the point while not “dumbing-down”. In fact, I don’t think any of my regular readers will pick up an Ordinary Farm book and feel cheated or talked-down-to. It’s pretty much the same kind of stuff, but the main characters are kids and it’s (very slightly) shorter than my other stuff. But it’s still full of odd ideas and (we hope) funny, interesting, and scary stuff.
Can you provide us with more details about your upcoming, illustrated novel based on Wagner’s The Ring Cycle and the Nibelungen tales?
That’s a project with a wonderful artist named Paul Storey. He’s already done a bunch of mind-boggling paintings (and will also do some pen and ink sketches) and I’ll write a short novel (I’ve planned it but not yet written it) wrapped around the theme of Wagner’s Ring, both myth and history.
What are the differences in working on a project by yourself, compared to your upcoming joint projects with Deborah Beale and artist, Paul Storey?
Collaboration by its very nature is quite different than a solo project. I am NOT the boss, or at least not the only boss. More importantly though, I get the benefit of the creativity of others, and the work automatically becomes richer for it. I had an early experience with this in theater and music (writing music as part of a band is a great way to learn this lesson) and as much of a control freak as I am (and believe me, I am) I would hate to lose this aspect of creativity. There are some wonderful things that can ONLY come out of collaboration.
Besides writing, you frequently speak and travel to promote your books. Do you have any memorable stories to share from your travels?
Every trip is memorable, to tell you the truth. Any time someone comes up to me in a country where I don’t speak the language, and tells me (usually in English, thank goodness) that they’ve read all my books and they really want to ask about such-and-such, I just feel incredibly lucky. All the people I meet for the first time who tell me that I’ve long ago become involved somehow with their lives — which is precisely what I feel about MY favorite writers — remind me how cool it is to do what I do.
And of course, there are the experiences I might not have otherwise — getting off the plane in Brisbane, Australia and smelling the tropics in the air, riding a train through the mountains into Switzerland, eating in a sidewalk cafe in Singapore, watching people put up Christmas lights — which make me feel so much richer, so much more invested in the world as a whole.
It’s ALL good, basically.
Have you ever (or do you currently) game? If so, how has gaming influenced your work?
I’m not a gamer myself, having been slightly too old, or perhaps just not genetically inclined. My brothers both were, and my son is showing every signs of aiming his entire life in that direction. If he doesn’t wind up a traditional writer, he’ll be a game designer. However, as someone with a background in not just writing but art and theater (especially improv) and live radio, I was sort of “gaming” before there was such a thing. That is, many of the things people like about gaming are things I like to do, and have done for years. I think anything that let’s people truly participate in their own entertainment (and education) is a good thing.
How can fans get updates for your upcoming projects?
I have perhaps the world’s friendliest message board, which can be found — along with announcements, updates, treats, surprises, and rank gossip — on my website, TADWILLIAMS.COM. All are welcome, it’s all free, and there’s a lot of cool stuff you wouldn’t expect, including several cool blogs (I don’t include my own in that estimation, but it’s there too.) So come visit me, please.